Part II – Application to Reformed & Evangelical Theology
SUBPART A – REFORMATION
Article 2 – Restoration of the Written Truth
a. John Wycliffe
b. Jan Hus
c. William Tyndale
d. Martin Luther
Article 2 – Restoration of the Written Truth
a. John Wycliffe
John Wycliffe was a teacher of theology at Oxford who expressed critical-views of Rome and of the papacy. He maintained that Scripture should be the basis of all doctrinal-opinion rather than the pope. For his views, he was summoned before the Bishop of London in 1377 but was defended by some high-ranking friends and a large crowd of supporters. Pope Gregory XI then issued a bull against Wycliffe, upon which he appeared in London in March of 1378 to defend himself. He was incarcerated for only a short time due to the outrage of his influential-friends. A lengthy-struggle ensued between Wycliffe and the Catholic church during the course of which he oversaw the translation of the New Testament into the common-English.
In 1382 the Archbishop of Canterbury (the former Bishop of London) called an ecclesiastical assembly in order to discuss action against Wycliffe. This was called the “Earthquake Synod” given the large earthquake that shook the assembly on May 21st, terrifying many of its participants. Nonetheless, Wycliffe’s views against the Catholic church were ruled to be heretical and he was summoned to appear before a synod at Oxford. In the meantime, he suffered a stroke which left him broken in body. Given that he remained in good standing with parliament and the court, he was not excommunicated. He died on December 31, 1384.
The Catholic animus against Wycliffe became most evident after his death. The year 1401 saw enactment of the Anti-Wycliffe Statute calling for the persecution of his remaining followers. In 1408, his writings and his translation of the New Testament was banned from having in one’s possession on penalty of heresy. In 1415 he was declared a “stiff-necked heretic” by the Council of Constance and it was decreed that his books be burned and his remains exhumed, burned, and cast into the River Swift.
b. Jan Hus
While Wycliffe’s life bore the fruit of an English translation of the New Testament, it also bore the consequence of an incensed-clergy and created an atmosphere in which it was an increasingly-dangerous-matter to seek Gospel-truth in defiance of the Catholic Church. The story of Jan Hus is one of the most notorious examples.
Hus was a priest and master at the University of Prague. He was also a follower of the teachings of John Wycliffe. His familiarity with Wycliffe’s work was made possible by the marriage of Ann of Bohemia to England’s king Richard II. When she died in 1394, her servants returned to Bohemia after having been exposed to the teachings of Wycliffe. Jan Hus heard these teachings, embraced them, and went about trying to reform his own church in Bohemia. Wycliffe’s teachings became increasingly-influential in Bohemia, and in 1409 Pope Alexander V issued a bull against Wycliffism demanding the burning of all his writings and the discontinuance of any such teachings. Hus appealed to no avail and was excommunicated. When Bohemia erupted in riots, the government took Hus’ side against the church. With popular-opinion on his side, Hus continued to preach reform.
The death of Alexander in 1410 resulted in a great tumult among Catholics when he was succeeded by “anti-pope” John XXIII causing a papal schism with Gregory XII. The following year, John commenced a crusade against Gregory’s protector, King Ladislaus of Naples. To finance this war, indulgences were preached and sold far and wide, and within the city of Prague.
Hus denounced the use of indulgences to finance the war, declaring that no pope or bishop had the right to take up the sword in the name of the church, and that man obtains forgiveness of his sins through repentance rather than through money. The Catholic-response was the public beheadings of some of Hus’ supporters. He was forbidden by the government to teach his reforms, and when he refused, the king tried to mediate between Hus and Rome.
In 1414 a council was convened in an effort to end the papal-schism that was causing instability throughout Europe. The heir to the Bohemian-throne (Sigismund of Hungary) was anxious to resolve the dispute and promised Hus safe-passage to Contstance to discuss a resolution. Hus relied upon this promise and left for Constance on October 11, 1414, arriving on November 3rd. While Hus was initially at-liberty, a pretext was soon created (through a rumor that he intended to flee) to take him into custody. He was imprisoned in a dungeon of the Dominican monastery. While Sigismund was initially-angered by the treachery exhibited by the Vatican, he was persuaded by his advisors that he owed no promises to a “heretic”. Hus was later delivered to the Archbishop of Constance who kept him chained day and night, sick and with little food.
His trial came on June 5, 1415, but he was unwilling to recant. He acknowledged his admiration for Wycliffe, and said that his wish was only that his soul attain to a similar place as his. On June 8th Hus’ objectionable writings were read to him, with explanation to the emperor as to how his teachings posed a threat to worldly power and he was given opportunity to recant. He responded that he would recant only if he could be convinced he was wrong, and that all he wanted was a fair trial in which he could present a defense. King Wenceslaus admonished him to fall on the mercy of the council as he would not protect a heretic. He was formally condemned on July 6th in the cathedral. After the mass, he was led into the church and read the sentence of his condemnation. He responded that he wished to be convinced of his error only from Holy Scripture. A degradation-ceremony followed wherein Hus was dressed in his vestments and asked to recant. As he refused, his ornaments were ripped from him with a curse. A high paper hat was placed on his head reading; “Leader of a Heretical Movement” and he was led to the place of execution.
He was denied a confessor under the rationale that he was a heretic. His hands were tied behind the stake with ropes and his neck was wrapped to the stake with a chain. They piled brushwood up to his neck and asked him (again) to recant. He declined, saying:
“God is my witness that the things charged against me I never preached. In the same truth of the gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, drawing upon the sayings and positions of the holy doctors, I am ready to die today.”
He then burned to death. We are told that when there was difficulty scaling up the fire, an elderly woman ran up and added a few handfuls of brushwood. When he saw this, he is said to have responded; “svata prostoto”, meaning “holy simplicity!”. This term is still used in his native country as commentary on a stupid action.
Although Hus was buried, the church later exhumed his bones, burned them, and scattered the ashes in the sea. After Hus’ death, some of his followers who had fled persecution in Czechoslavakia for Germany became known as the Moravians, and these became what were the earliest-known charismatic-protestants.
Hus is only one of the most-prominent of a long list of names of those denied their liberty, their property, and even their lives for the restoration of Truth. True doctrine came by way of blood.
c. William Tyndale
Another key-translator of the Bible was William Tyndale. Tyndale was the first to translate substantial-portions of the Bible into English. He was also the first translator to draw directly from the Hebrew and Greek texts (rather than to use the Latin Vulgate). Tyndale’s translation was relied-upon heavily by the translators of the King James Version. His efforts also excelled those of Wycliffe in that he was able to take advantage of the newly-invented printing-press to promulgate his translation.
Tyndale believed that the word of God should be accessible to every man. We have an account in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs of an exchange between Tyndale and an elderly man that proved to be predictive. We read:
Master Tyndale happened to be in the company of a certain divine, recounted for a learned man, and, in communing and disputing with him, he drave him to that issue, that the said great doctor burst out into these blasphemous words, “We were better to be without God’s laws than the Pope’s.” Master Tyndale, hearing this, full of godly zeal, and not bearing that blasphemous saying, replied, “I defy the Pope, and all his laws;” and added, that if God spared him life, ere many years he would cause a boy that driveth the plough, to know more of the Scripture than he did”.
In 1523 Tyndale sought permission from the Bishop of London (Cuthbert Tunstall) to translate the Bible into English, which was denied. He then traveled to Germany where he translated the Bible into English at the University of Wittenburg with the assistance of William Roy. In 1526 his New Testament was published and smuggled into England and Scotland. It was condemned that fall by Bishop Tunstall who warned booksellers and held public book-burnings. For making this translation, Tyndale was declared a “heretic” by Cardinal Wolsey.
In 1529 Tyndale continued his translation of the Old Testmant clandestinely in Germany. He also wrote a paper critical of King Henry VIII’s divorce on Scriptural-grounds. A furious King Henry, demanded his apprehension and return to England. During the next few years he debated Thomas More in print on the subject of King Henry’s divorce and was declared a heretic from the church.
In 1535 Tyndale was betrayed by a friend in Antwerp into the hands of the state and thereafter tried on heresy-charges. He was condemned to be burned at the stake in 1536. Upon his assuming the execution-platform, his executioner humanely-offered him the option of being strangled against the stake prior to his body being burned. His last words were a loud declaration of; “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.” Foxe’s Book of Martyrs ends the account of his life with the following concerning his response to those that criticized or condemned his translation:
I call God to record against the day we shall appear before our Lord Jesus, that I never altered one syllable of God’s Word against my conscience, nor would do this day, if al that is in earth, whether it be honour, pleasure, or riches, might be given me.”
Through the example of Tyndale’s the Scriptures came back into the hands of the common-man, and did so by way of blood.
Tyndale was captured and executed before he could complete a translation of the entire Old Testament. However, his version was slightly edited in 1539 by Myles Coverdale and the missing portions of the Old Testament were added for the publishing of The Great Bible, which became the Authorized Version in England until the publishing of the King James Version in 1611, which (itself) substantially utilized Tyndale’s work.
d. Martin Luther
It was Martin Luther that is credited with the beginning of the Protestant-reformation when he nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of Wittenburg’s “CastleChurch” on October 31, 1517, objecting to the corruption of doctrine and moral abuses of the Roman church.
This action was taken by Martin Luther in response to the activities of Johann Tetzel, an emissary from Rome that had been sent to sell indulgences to raise money for the Vatican. The Roman Catholic Church maintained that faith-alone was insufficient for salvation, and that “good works” were required. One could earn a claim to “good works” by giving money to the church in this formalized-process. Luther objected to a saying attributed to Tetzel;
“As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”
Within weeks of Luther nailing his “95 Theses” to the door, his words were translated from Latin into German and spread throughout Germany through aid of the recent-invention of the printing-press.
Luther went on to write profoundly concerning that fundamental-truth of “faith” in Jesus Christ as the only means of redemption for humanity. The stand taken by Luther served to embolden others to stand against the abuses of the papacy and to teach the fundamentals of the Christian faith despite the real-danger this posed to their livelihoods, their liberty, and their lives. Luther also went on to translate the New Testament into the common German-language.